Marilyn Monroe's beauty and personality are so legendary that 45 years after her death, we still talk about her and recognize her like a living person.
The newest exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe, explores both Marilyn Monroe, the super-icon, and Norma Jean Baker, the girl lost underneath. The exhibit of nearly 300 works includes everything from collections of notable photographers Bert Stern and Douglas Kirkland to pop-art works by Andy Warhol and contemporary artists working today.
To mold the show into a beautiful spectacle, curator Tariana Navas-Nieves had the walls of the gallery rooms painted yellow, pink and green, and will play Monroe's music in the background.
"It's like a bombardment of imagery. In a way, it's a secular shrine ... honoring that image," she says.
Navas-Nieves took the show one step further by inviting local artists to contribute.
All 15 artists she asked, accepted, and have had eight months to work on pieces. Local participants, Navas-Nieves explains, include artists who have lived and worked in the area for a while, and whose distinct styles she's tracked like Floyd Tunson, Kat and Bob Tudor and D.K. McDonald. All of them will share a section of the gallery.
For many of them, the opportunity to create a work around Marilyn Monroe was a new challenge.
Margaret Kasahara had to not only consider the figure of Monroe closely, but return to the practice of portraiture for the first time in many years. Her work, a flat black-and-white oil painting of Monroe, nods to our one-dimensional perception of the icon.
"People don't usually think of her as a fleshed-out person," Kasahara says.
When talking about Monroe, the conversation drifts from her glossy image to the dark reality of her life marked by a childhood in orphanages and foster homes, and, later, predatory men and failed marriages underneath the famous face.
"I can't imagine what it would be like, from her perspective, to be seen as a symbol," Kasahara muses.
When he thought of Monroe, Adam Conard saw more of what the beauty tried to project.
"She's the type of person that if you walked into a room, you would know she walked in before you looked over and saw her," he says, "this kind of person with a presence. That's always the impression I've had of her."
Conard's large-scale, mixed-media portrait blends a photorealistic image of Monroe with a colorful grid of drip patterns. Conard has painted many portraits, yet most have featured men. His challenge came through capturing the other sex.
His excitement for his subject exemplifies Monroe's seemingly timeless allure.
"I've always had a fascination with Marilyn Monroe, just the presence that she had and the glow that came from her," Conard says. "I've always wanted to capture that."